January 16th, 2020 at 11:01 am
So, as an environmentally conscious motorist, keen to do your bit to help the planet, you are toying with the idea of a hybrid or completely green EV. You have worked through the finance options, done your research on charging points including having one installed at your home. You have trawled the market and spoken to insurance companies to source the best policy, just one thing remains now and that is your breakdown cover. Usually, this is an afterthought for many motorists but if you have a car with new technology, then recovery options will be much more sharply in your focus.
New challenges for the breakdown and recovery services in the 21st century
Electric technology is just one of the new challenges for the main organisations offering recovery and breakdown services to motorists. Cars are generally becoming larger and heavier presenting a whole range of new challenges.
SUVs, hybrids and EVs are all much heavier than standard fuel engine cars and most tow trucks can only pull weight of around 2.0 to 2.5 tonnes so are already struggling to recover some of the newer vehicles. Battery packs are heavy and with the likely increase of EVs over the coming years, most standard recovery trucks cannot now tow in these vehicles. The RAC estimates this problem currently to affect around 10% of the vehicles on the road but this figure is only going to grow, exponentially if the UK government and car manufacturers have their way.
Traditionally, towing a vehicle in requires lifting up the front of the car and securing the tow ropes or chains around the front axle. Because of the location of the batteries on the new EVs, they could be subject to damage if they are moved in this way.
Changes within the breakdown and recovery industry
The RAC has introduced around fifty purpose-built recovery vehicles which it is adding to its fleet on a daily basis. Rather than asking the motorist to wait until they have sourced a flatbed trailer to recover a car that cannot be repaired by the roadside, these Izuzu D-Max 4x4s can recover standard 4x4s, weighty SUVs and EVs. Towing capacity is 2.8 tonnes from a 1.9-litre engine and very cleverly, each van has a four-wheel trailer that is folded up within the loadbed and can be called into use if needed. This new technology is called All-Wheels-Up and lifts the car in its entirety so neatly circumventing the concerns of EV drivers about damage to the vulnerable underside of their vehicle and the battery.
Many of these recovery vehicles are already on the road and the RAC are tending to focus their deployment in urban areas where there is a higher use of not only SUVs but EVs and also sometimes limited access for traditional flatbed trucks. The RAC has a fleet size of 1,600 standard recovery vans and this new technology has also been fitted to 600 of these vehicles without any compromise on the capacity for carrying standard equipment needed for the average breakdown scenario.
Running out of charge
This is understandably a concern for many EV motorists, a flat battery either due to driver oversight or a fault. Can these vehicles be recharged at the roadside or do they require recovery to a charging point or specialist repair centre?
The RAC and the AA are both working on roadside repair solutions for EV batteries. The AA has released figures saying it attends around 3,000 EV breakdowns a year and the figure is rising. This may well be because there are simply more EV cars on the road as a proportion of all road traffic rather than the fact that they suffer more problems than conventional fuel vehicles.
Data crunching reveals that the majority of EV breakdowns are not connected to battery problems but as a precaution, AA patrols now carry Polar charging cards so they can transport your EV to the nearest charging point for a free top-up. Meanwhile, the RAC has devised a new portable lightweight charger which it intends to fit to its Transit vans meaning if you do have a low or flat battery, they can recharge it at the roadside. They are compatible with Type 1 and 2 sockets which means they can charge virtually every type of EV and can give you a ten mile or 30-minute charge which should get you home on average or at least to your nearest charging point. The power to recharge is taken from the patrol’s van, from a generator that is permanently attached to the engine ruling out, at least at the moment, the ability of the motorist to become totally self-sufficient and carry a portable recharge kit which he can use himself.
The environmental impact of this process has also been considered and been found to be superior to either towing the vehicle in or carrying a large additional battery. The AA has an alternative solution and is testing patrol vehicles which carry battery packs kept at full charge on a trickle system from the van’s engine as it runs. This means that if they stop to recharge a dead EV, they don’t need to run the van’s engine to do this, ticking the box on air pollution issues. This system is also compatible with Type 1 and 2 and provides a similar charge and range to the RAC’s solution.
With many new cars now not having a standard spare wheel or even a spacer saver, recovering heavier vehicles or repairing new EV technology or electronics at the roadside are not the only challenges the recovery services face.
It would seem in conclusion that if you have an EV, it would be better to arrange your recovery and breakdown cover with one of the main organisations. There are lots of other providers in the marketplace including free cover offered as add-ons to motor policies or some bank accounts. These are there as incentives and these organisations tend to work with local networks of recovery garages which may not necessarily have the infrastructure or technological expertise to manage an EV at the roadside.